With friends and relatives watching from a distance because of a bomb threat, the aircraft carrier Eisenhower set sail on a six-month sea tour Thursday, becoming the first U.S. warship to carry women on an extended mission.
Lt. Cmdr. Janice M. Hamby, one of almost 400 women among the carrier's 5,500 personnel, said she feels much safer on a carrier than on the lightly armed support ships to which women were relegated in the past.
"The big difference for us is that we can defend ourselves," Hamby said. "I can go to the Persian Gulf and feel a lot safer than someone on a repair ship or a resupply ship."
The Eisenhower and its support ships are carrying more than 12,000 sailors and Marines to relieve the carrier USS George Washington and its battle group off the Arabian peninsula, where it was sent in response to the Iraqi buildup.
Despite a telephoned bomb threat an hour before its departure, the USS Eisenhower pulled away from the Norfolk Naval Base on time after a search by the crew, bomb experts and dogs found no bomb.
Cmdr. Kevin Wensing, a spokesman for the Navy's Atlantic Fleet air force, said the caller said only that there was a bomb aboard the ship.
In March, the Eisenhower became the first U.S. combat ship to take women as crew members.
Women have served on non-combat vessels since the Carter administration.